Alois Alzheimer. Father of neuropathology. He studied brain pathology and discovered pre-senile dementia, an illness which bears his name today. I have been addressing this name quite often in recent years. He died of heart failure when he was fifty-one years old. Had he lived longer, he would have likely found a possible cure for this disease, and I would not now fall into the abyss of despair.
No, I do not have this disease. I would not have been aware of that if I had anyway. Unlike me, people with Alzheimer don’t write their past stories or events. They simply can’t. How could it be possible for you to write your memories when you aren’t able to even to remember what you had for breakfast today? Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to perceive what or how they feel.
I first learnt this term from the doctor, following the medical check-up he performed to my father. As his well-detailed explanation went further, I came to realize that he was indeed speaking the truth about my dad – I was helping him to find his glasses for a long time, although they were usually lying on top of the bookshelf. He then began to confuse his workplace. Once he returned very early, complaining that another person was working in his position, which he had actually left seven years ago. To my surprise, when I mentioned his current work, he couldn’t remember at all. Watching him perplexed and distrait with elements of aging, my mom started giving him walnuts, hoping that this would help to prevent memory loss.
Similar incidents increased, as did our concern. He resigned from his job and was stuck in homecare. We put him into a sanatorium, thinking he might have nervous or mental tiredness. However, one day he again disappeared. After a massive search, he was found in his hometown village, staying in his old childhood house. My uncle’s son, whom he didn’t recognise at all, reported that he angrily and continuously asked for his deceased parents.
After a great deal of persuasion, I took him to the best neurologist in the town when he returned. Medical check-ups, analyses, experiments…where I first encountered Alzheimer’s, and it’s been following us since then. My massive research and countless meetings with many doctors didn’t provide even a little hope. No cure…
My mom and I came to the conclusion that our home is the best place for him, even though hospitals are a much better-preferred location in many cases. Since I had to work all day, I was aware of the fact that it would be my mom who would have to put up with all mental and physical suffering that emerged from her solicitude towards her husband with such condition. I lacked time with my boyfriend, and troubles began in our relationship too. Although we previously had a long-standing relationship and a mutual understanding, Alzheimer’s changed everything. He expressed little sympathy and a final declaration from his mom calling my dad “insane” broke everything off. Things were never the same again.
My mom couldn’t have a proper sleep. Neither could I.
Then I felt how difficult it is not having a brother, a male family member who could possibly resist all this pain we are enduring and provide a small, but mighty, comfort that would ease our grief. Dad has no idea whether he has a son or not. I noticed his situation worsened when, one day, he couldn’t recognise me at all. Despite me calling him “dad” several times, he didn’t believe me and looked at my mom for confirmation. When she nodded, he probably got convinced. But his look was possessed by a strange attitude…
One day he wanted to go outside. “I will go for a little stroll,” he said. He didn’t want us to accompany him, so he left alone, without knowing that I secretly followed and watched him walking. He wandered around the park aimlessly awhile, then made his way back. However, it took him quite a long time to find the right way, walking through different streets and running into dead-ends. In the end, I approached him, held his hand and we returned home.
A long time has passed. He now lives in a special treatment facility. It has become a habit for me to see him every day after work. For more than a year now, he has no idea who I am, as he lost his ability to recognise me. Yet he is still flexible with people and can talk with anyone, usually about one topic. “Today my wife came to see me. You don’t know her, she is such a caring woman,” he slightly smiles and continues, “She brought my favourite raisin cake, we ate it together with tea. She promised to visit me again tomorrow”. I take raisin cake out of my bag. “Here is the one I made; do you want to try? It is delicious,” I ask. “No, no. I am good, better take it to your children”. I would love to if I had any children. Many times, I tried so hard to make him recognise me and kept my hope that he would eventually remember me. Nothing worked. Then I accepted it. Most importantly, he feels safe and sound.
I return home in poor spirits to empty rooms as if the walls are about to swallow me. All I do in this home is to seek a comfort and solace through the books lying on a bookshelf in the corner. I start reading one by one, in hopes that it will take me away from my current desperate world into a better one, where I live along with fictional characters. Sometimes with Anna Karenina, sometimes with Onegin. It gives me short and little relief. Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s is always with me and doesn’t allow anyone to get close to me.
I leave for work early in the morning. After work, I have my usual visit with my dad. As usual, he rejects the food I bring, instead, he boasts about his wife. He talks about how she is great at cooking, and another delicious meal she made for him. Strangely enough, he never forgets my mom. Once, he even told me how they met each other for the first time. As his tears burst from his eyes, I quietly embraced him. Never has my heart broken so much.
My mom. It has been one year since she passed away.
I never told him of her death, although he was living at home back then. One day I returned from work late. She was lying on the floor, unconscious and muted, and my dad was calmly reading the newspaper, unaware of the incident. She was declared dead by doctors, while dad stood still, watching all these actions silently. Then, he was taken away. I remembered that, in recent times, he started talking to himself, catching sight of shadows, which resulted in him becoming more stressed, even causing little aggressiveness. I always believed that he would never forget my mom, but there were visible signs of strangling left on her neck.
I visit him every day, nevertheless. There aren’t many people like him in the facility. It is only him and Alzheimer’s that welcome me. Only my dad doesn’t know about his “strange” and “common” partner, it is only me who always has to face it and feel its presence. He doesn’t care about me at all, so sometimes I think that my visits seem very meaningless, that maybe I should stop this. But today…
– “I want to forget that day”, he said all of a sudden, “Don’t come here anymore. I just want to forget.”
Having said that, he stood up from his chair and went to his room, leaving me completely puzzled and perplexed.
I guess this kind of life is a never-ending cycle. It looks eternal and has no finishing point. We are all destined to be stuck in our own problems and absorb them slowly and quietly. I have almost no hope left to stand with, but one day I met someone by accident.
– “I am a doctor. I am currently doing some research on Alzheimer’s disease.”
His words were a turning point that turned our initial skeptical conversation into deep discussions. I told him everything about my dad, which lasted several hours. I finally felt relieved, as if mountains collapsed from my shoulders. Spontaneously, he wiped small tears that came right from my eyes and said:
– “My mom died because of this disease.”
I found out that Alzheimer has always been with him too, and even took his mother away from him. I just felt compassion for him, at the same time he looked like my rescuer who could provide salvation.
– “I don’t want to lose my dad,” – I looked at him with both desperation and hope.
– “I can overcome Alzheimer’s,” he responded, showing a strong confidence in his voice.
My hope revived. It was the first time I entered my home with a small bit of happiness and excitement. I went straight to the bookshelf, to meet with my “best friends”. I took a novel of romance into my hands and began reading.
Alzheimer’s was still watching me in the corner, but from now on it wasn’t able to interrupt me.
Nodirabegim Ibrokhimova was born in the Fergana region of Uzbekistan on July 18, 1989. She studied international journalism at the University of Foreign Languages in Uzbekistan in 2007-2011. Published books: "Yoningdagi baht" (Happiness next to you), "Jodugar" (The Witch), “Zulm va muhabbat” (Torment and Love). Short stories were published in Russia, Ukraine, India, USA, Pakistan.